parkrun tourism @ timboon

When I first heard that Timboon was getting a parkrun, my first reaction was ‘Yay!’ followed very quickly by ‘ice cream!!!!!’. It should come as no secret that Timboon is famous for its delicious chilly foodstuff and, even if the scenery hadn’t been a big enough drawcard, the ice cream would have got us there.

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The start/finish line

After a couple of hours drive, we arrived to a very chilly Timboon but an incredibly warm welcome from the parkrun volunteers, locals and tourists gathered for the launch. It was great to see how much this event is clearly supported by and part of the community with the Lions Club cranking up a bacon and egg breakfast, councillors in attendance and local businesses coming on board to participate then open up early to cater for those who’d come along to the launch. We were all welcomed by the Event and Territory Directors with a show of many, many hands demonstrating how big a boost the visitors had made to the local population for the day. Our Run Director then gave us a synopsis of the course, sticking to the positive – an out and back course which is downhill all the way to the turn around point.

And, with that, we were off.

The course is simply stunning. From the start line, you head out on the rail trail and down the blissfully promised gentle downhill run on a soft trail, lightly dusted with leaves to cushion your feet even further. While it was certainly cold, rays of sunlight were streaming between the trees and making everything look like it belonged in a fairytale. The trail is wide enough to easily pass, even when runners started to come back the other way.

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The beautiful rail trail

I was running intervals and feeling strong and speedy, despite not being able to feel my fingers thanks to the morning chill. The marshals at the turnaround point were all smiles and full of encouragement which it turned out I needed as the return journey is, obviously, uphill and took a little bit of getting used to. It’s not a terrible hill, more of a vague incline and I adjusted soon enough with the finish line sneaking up pretty quickly. It was wonderful to see people of all speeds out there on the course with a great collection of parkwalkers smiling and chatting as they completed their 5km.

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Views from the trail

Your choices for post parkrun sustenance are plentiful – the Timboon railway shed is right there and was where we chose to start. Walking in is an aromatic delight – the whisky distilled on site smells delicious then, walking further in, we were greeted with freshly baked smells of scones and muffins. After our coffee and muffins (still warm from the oven), we headed off for our dessert (or second breakfast) – Timboon ice cream. I’m usually a fan of the white chocolate and raspberry but opted today for whisky cream and maple and cinnamon – both absolutely delicious.

I am aware that my next statement is a pretty big call, particularly having visited 39 different courses but this course is definitely my favourite so far. Timboon has the perfect mix – a stunning trail, good facilities and wonderful post-parkrun options. My only regret? That we couldn’t stay longer today. However it’s only a small regret – just another reason to make sure we come back.

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Sometimes runs are amazing. Sometimes you’re just grateful that they’re over.

Today, my training plan told me it was time for my last long run before the Great Ocean Road half marathon in 2 weeks time. ‘Last’ implies I’ve done at least one other but I didn’t end up doing last weekend’s other longest run because I had a cold and didn’t feel like putting my body through it. My previous longest run was Run for the kids and that was a while ago. So it was definitely not optional today.

I got up relatively early, packed my stuff with a smile and headed to Melbourne. I’d mapped out a course and knew what needed to be done. I could feel the ‘but I’d really rather not do this’ feelings coming on as I approached my car park but just ignored them, got my stuff and headed out.

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The first kilometre sucked. I felt like I had never actually done this before and didn’t know how to run. I couldn’t get the strap right on my hydration pack. My shoes felt weird. I’d forgotten my sunglasses and was squinting constantly. I know, none of those are huge but they just added to the feeling of not wanting to be there.

Luckily for me, I know myself quite well. When I planned this route, it was with with full knowledge of my moods and tendency to want to give up when things get hard. There was no backup plan. I’d taken a myki card with me…..but there really wasn’t any convenient public transport anywhere near me, at least until I hit about the 15th kilometre, by which time it would be too late. ‘Suck it up princess and just run’ was my mantra for quite a lot of the run.

I’m pleased to say it wasn’t all as dispiriting as it sounds. The weather was absolutely perfect – crisp and with a hint of rain on the wind, that perfect Autumn weather that Melbourne does so well. Most of the scenery was interesting and diverting enough to help me forget the fact I was running a long way. And I’d set intervals on my watch so only had to think about the next 3 minutes, not even looking at how far I’d run or how long it was taking.

Probably the worst bit of the course was through the industrial guts of Port Melbourne – kind of ruggedly interesting in its own way but not exactly picturesque. Pounding the concrete was beginning to hurt my feet and I was longing for my beloved trails. There were people around which helped including a couple of speed walking men and a guy practising his skiing technique so it wasn’t all dull. I even got a ‘great job – keep going’ from a couple out for a stroll.

The last few kilometres were a lot more walk than run, partly because of Sunday market crowds along Southbank and St Kilda Road and partly because I was tired and over it. Whatever. I’m well past beating myself up over my times and I knew today was about completing the distance and time on legs. My legs were not particularly happy about that and would have appreciated far less time but they’ll get over it.

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With a smile on my face and various aches and pains making their presence known, I swung back into Albert Park with 17km done – my furthest ever long run completed by myself. Despite not particularly enjoying it, I’m proud of that. I know I can complete further distances with cheering crowds, the promise of bling at the end and the incentive of finishing before they deflate the arch but it’s a whole different proposition to go out and run that far on your own, just because some computer generated training plan tells you you should.

20170507_115342I’m celebrating with an afternoon of sitting smugly on the couch. Bring on the taper!

running because you need to

A while ago, I wrote on one of my social media updates that my soul had told me where to run that day. It was a little bit of a throw away line but, after writing it, I realised it really was true. My training plan tells me how far I have to run and my brain (with its ingrained need to follow rules) makes me follow that. My soul tells me where. Sometimes it needs to be close to other humans and is satisfied with my neighbourhood. Sometimes I need the familiarity of my home parkrun course where my brain is free to think of whatever it needs to because my feet know where to go. Sometimes I need to run beside the ocean. If I listen hard enough, I know where I need to run.

Yesterday I needed the You Yangs. Last week my friend, Vanessa, passed away at the age of 42 after a 4 month gutsy battle with cancer and yesterday I was travelling to her memorial service. I knew I had to fit in a run somewhere amongst that but really didn’t feel much like it when faced with an emotional day and a long drive. And then I thought about running out in the natural environment and knew that it was the right thing to do – a run Vanessa would have approved of and which I needed to make peace with exactly how unfair and awful it was.

Needless to say, it was an emotional 10km. I was glad to be out there on my own as anyone who came across me would have thought I’d lost my mind. I’d remember some funny story and start laughing maniacally. Or a song would come on from our college days and I’d start singing it at the top of my voice. Then the tears would flow and I’d have to manage the whole running while ugly crying thing. It was one of those runs.

I’m not generally a religious person but it’s hard not to feel the spirituality of running somewhere as beautiful as this. At one point, a kangaroo bounded across the track in front of me and I thought of Vanessa, how much she loved animals and nature and wondered if it was a sign. When the kangaroo stopped at the edge of the trail and just looked at me, completely still until I had run past, I knew it was. In whatever way, she was out there with me on the trail yesterday and I was grateful to have known her and to have been able to spend the time yesterday morning remembering and honouring who she was and what she brought to the world. I was grateful to have running as my medium to do that and that I’d listened to my soul when it told me where I needed to be.

So this one’s for you Vanessa. The world is a much better place for having had you in it.

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Here’s to the real runners

What is a runner? What is the difference between a runner and a ‘real runner’ (which seems, even when said verbally, to always be in inverted commas)? I was left to ponder this again after the weekend with the topic being raised at two events.

Firstly, I attended the Ararat parkrun (great event, read the blog!) where I was fortunate enough to run with a whole range of runners of different experience levels and varying speeds. One fabulous lady who was clearly giving it her all made a comment, after my words of encouragement, that she wasn’t a ‘real runner’. My reply – of course you are, you’re running, aren’t you? What’s not real about that?

And then, in the wake of the London marathon, I was reading Facebook comments on their page as people prepare for the ballot to open for next year’s event. And that phrase came up again, in an exceptionally dispiriting context – people commenting that only ‘real runners’ should be given places to run in the marathon, as opposed to those who might dare to complete the marathon in something less than a ‘reasonable’ time. The implication was that these somehow fake runners shouldn’t be taking up a place that a real runner might want.

So, 2 comments about ‘real runners’, made in two very different contexts yet very closely linked. Thankfully, in my experience, attitudes like those seen commenting on London marathon participation are in the minority however are still hurtful and damaging. It doesn’t matter how proud you are of your achievements or how supportive your friends are – hearing those comments about your speed not being fast enough or you taking the place of some genetically gifted person who ‘clearly’ worked harder than you did hurts and erodes your self confidence.

It took me a long time to see myself as a real runner (no inverted commas needed). Early on, I encountered some comments about my speed or about the fact that I have walk breaks and they took a while to get over. Slowly, I realised that most of these comments were not coming from runners, they were coming from people who didn’t actually get anything about running and, therefore, weren’t qualified to make me feel bad about what I did or how I did it. Since I made the switch to viewing myself as a runner, I either haven’t heard further comments directed my way or they have slipped off my aerodynamic form as I bolt past 🙂 If you run, you’re a runner – it’s that simple. As John Bingham says, there’s no licence and no test and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it for a few weeks or most of your life. Note that I made the switch to how I viewed myself – nothing about my speed or form or frequency of training changed. I just realised that I ran therefore was a runner.

So, to the runner I met at Ararat – you’re a runner and don’t ever doubt it. You pushed it to your limit on Saturday and should be proud of what you did. Disregard anyone’s negative comments if they didn’t also get up for an 8am start on a Saturday morning and push it their hardest.

To those who think I shouldn’t be putting my name in the London Marathon ballot for next year because, if I were lucky enough to get a slot, there’s a very real chance I would take more than what you consider a ‘reasonable time’ – I’m sorry you feel that way. Mostly because I’m sorry you haven’t had the experience of hanging out with runners of all speeds, shapes, sizes and running styles. If you had, you’d realise that we’re actually very similar, speed aside – we both train hard, we both have doubts, we both push ourselves to our personal limits, we both would dearly like to go faster, we both worry about injuries and we both experience an amazing sense of pride when we achieve a long sought after goal. So, if I’m lucky enough to get to be out on that course next year, I’ll be thinking of you and hoping you’ve been able to experience the better side of running and not just the narrow vision you have today.

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The upside of running

The other day, I wrote a blog post about how running wasn’t all ‘sunshine and endorphins‘. While out on the trails, I was thinking about the flip side of that – all the wonderful things that running has brought to my life and I figured it was only fair that I give both sides of the coin an equal airing.

So, still on a post-run endorphin high, here is the list of why running is just so brilliant:

  • It’s free. Anyone who actually runs will tell you that this a complete myth – running shoes, running clothes, event fees, fancy watches, glow in the dark bits…the list goes on. But, at it’s heart (and particularly when you get started), it doesn’t take much to get you out the door and it is possible to run very cheaply. Just not me 🙂
  • Anyone can do it. Again, not strictly true but mostly. I’m certain that the majority of people who have ever said to me ‘Oh, I can’t run’ actually could if they wanted to. You may run slowly or awkwardly but most people can actually run. As John Bingham says, you don’t need a licence and there is no test to pass – just run.
  • It makes you feel good – inside and out. Running is obviously good for you physically (and, contrary to silly people spreading rumours, it does not ruin your knees) but it is also great for your mental health. In fact, this has much more to do with why I run than anything physical. There are few of my moods that can’t be helped by some time out on the trails. Shortly after starting, I get so caught up with the whole breathing/running/not falling over triad that I have no brain space to think of anything else. A few kilometres in when this is under control, I find a bit of a zen like state descends – I’m just running and very little else matters. I’ll still be aware of other things and might even be thinking of non-running things but through a mist that can only be described as happiness. Even on a bad run, I can’t maintain a bad mood for longer than the first few kilometres.
  • You become a superhero. Again, that’s not strictly true. But you do feel like one after you conquer some big, long worked for goal. Sure, I’ve set goals before and felt good achieving them but there’s something that feels truly epic about setting big running goals; goals that scare you. And when you achieve them, you feel like you could take on anything. Or at least should be allowed to wear a cape in celebration.
  • Resilience takes on a new meaning. Runners are a tough breed. Despite sporting painful injuries, many continue to push through while muttering ‘No need to worry, just a flesh wound’. One of my most effective mantras if I happen to get a blister in the middle of a half marathon is ‘It’s only a blister. Get on with it’. And few weather events will see a run being cancelled – a bit of wind or rain is nothing. After all, we’re not made of paper.
  • The world looks different. I wasn’t really expecting this one but it really is true. I have always travelled a fair bit but, since running, view places in a different way. City parks call out for me to put my running shoes on and go exploring. Tracks off into the forest similarly beckon. And, in running them, I feel like I get to see behind the curtain of a place, peeking into the best parts the locals get to see.
  • You’re in the club. Through running, I have found myself in conversations with people who I would have no other reason to ever have the opportunity to chat to and it’s wonderful. Runners just seem to be the best sort of people – welcoming, accepting, friendly, motivating. And the running extended family that I’m part of thanks mostly to my involvement in parkrun really are the most amazing people on the planet. A big call but true.

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parkrun tourism @ ararat

My alarm went off at 4.45 this morning and, while I didn’t spring out of bed (hard to do on the morning after the first week of a new term), I did get up with smile – time for the next wave of parkrun launches to begin. Today’s trek was taking us to Ararat – 2 hours drive and through all sorts of weather. Leaving home, it was pretty miserable and we were envisaging being dripping wet all morning then it turned to fog (coinciding with daylight arriving so we still couldn’t enjoy any views) then finally…..sunshine!

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Still a bit foggy as we gathered at the start

We timed it to perfection, arriving with ample time for a toilet and coffee stop before heading to the start. As at most launches, especially those from areas new to parkrun, there was the usual mix of tourists (most of whom know each other from attending all the other launches) and locals (looking slightly dazed by all the people in orange ‘uniforms’). Run Director, Pat welcomed everyone and delivered the briefing including the description of the 4 lap course. I ignored the 4 lap bit and tried to concentrate on the ‘where to go’ bit. Not knowing the park, I got lost in my mental directions so ignored those too, intending just to follow those in front.

The Territory Director took to the microphone to welcome Ararat parkrun to the Australian and global parkrun family and his words really struck a chord. Amidst all the busyness of organising a local parkrun, it can be easy to forget that you’re not just organising a small event for some locals, you’re joining a very big family; this event is one of over 200 run every weekend around Australia with hundreds also being run in 13 other countries around the world. Just take a moment to appreciate the enormity of that. Thanks. You may now continue reading 🙂

Formalities nearly done, we all gathered at the start line and listened to the Mayor do his speech and cut the ribbon. After one last minor task of redirecting some footballers from the oval across the road who were about to use the starting path for their warm up, we were off.

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A lake to run around…..4 times 🙂

The course sounds confusing and the map looks confusing (if you’re not from the area) but, once you’re running it, it’s not. We had helpful marshals exactly where you needed them, clear chalk markings and bollards or cones in appropriate spots. Easy. The track takes you through the very picturesque park, up and down a short, sharp hill, around the lake, around the back of the swimming pool, over a bridge and back to a turn around point near the start line. I hadn’t been looking forward to the course as I will inevitably be lapped on multi lap courses but I actually enjoyed this one. The laps were short enough to not go on forever and it made for a friendly atmosphere, seeing people several times. There was enough variety in the scenery and the surface, with some undulations here and there, that I had plenty to concentrate on. Running multiple laps also gave me the incentive I needed to run a bit faster – I was determined only to be lapped once by Geoff and not at all by Gary – goals I managed to happily complete 🙂

I was really happy with my run today – no pain at all in my calf and I just generally felt good, had energy and wasn’t exhausted. The finish ends after a short uphill section which did push me but I still finished with a smile and got my best time in 6 months.

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By now, the sun was out, the sky was blue and, with the post-parkrun cafe mere metres from the finish line, we were in and ordering breakfast in no time. We sat out under the trees, eating our delicious breakfasts and drinking our coffee, catching up on parkrun talk and planning the next few launches. An absolutely perfect way to start our Saturday. Even better, as we were sitting so close to the finish line, we were able to cheer the last parkrunners and the tailrunner over the line.

Well done to the team at Ararat and to all the locals who kicked off their weekend with 5km in such a beautiful setting. To those who might be just starting their parkrun journey, be warned; it is addictive and it is very possible it may change your life 🙂

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parkrun tourism @ ballarat

When I heard that it was Ballarat parkrun’s 100th run on Easter Saturday, I knew I had to go – it’s been on my list for a while, really isn’t that far away and you’ve got to love a good celebration. So husband and I were up early and on the road. I attended University in Ballarat so I know the typical Ballarat weather only too well – we were certainly greeted with blue skies (once we’d driven through the fog) but the temperature did steadily drop as we got nearer and I was grateful I’d remembered my jacket.

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Taking place in Victoria Park, Ballarat parkrun has all the required facilities – clean and plentiful toilets, ample parking and shelter from the weather (which I’m sure comes in handy!).

A reasonable crowd had gathered as we moved in for the briefing. It was lovely to hear the pride in the Run Director’s voice and justifiably so – it takes a lot of work to get a parkrun off the ground so is an achievement to have not only done that but to have sustained it and grown the community over 100 events.

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part of the parkrun coursbly so – it takes a lot to get a parkrun event off the ground and is an important and significant milestone to reach 100 events.

Briefing ended with a countdown to the start….I realised too late that we had been briefed at the start line where I should not have been standing so close to the front so had to get out of the way as the faster runners came past. Fortunately it’s a wide start and there’s lots of room for people to find their comfortable place and pace.

The path is a gravel track around Victoria Park and is a great surface to run on and ample width for all the comings and goings. From the start, we followed the track then turned left to a turnaround point before running back along an outer track and back over the start line for a second, longer loop.

I was cold and was feeling it in my breathing for the first couple of kilometres but had warmed up by the start of the second lap. It is certainly a scenic spot with trees all around and autumn twinges in the leaves and between the scenery and not being alone on the course (thanks to the out and back loops), the time and kilometres pass pretty quickly. The course markings and marshals are also great and I was thankful for them, particularly the section of the cones at about 4km as my clearly addled running brain had forgotten where I had to go.

I was welcomed over the finish line with cowbells and cheers and the finish line atmosphere was made even better by the crowd hanging out and having breakfast with a bbq kindly provided by volunteers as part of the 100th event celebrations.

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Anyone for a bbq breakfast?

Overall, I really enjoyed this parkrun which is no mean feat for a 2-lap course – great scenery, flat course, friendly community, varied runners/walkers/in betweens. With this one only being an hour away, I suspect we might be back sometime.

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The finish shute